Gun Lies

Hillary v Washington

If you believe this meme, Hillary Clinton is a threat to Americans’ Second Amendment rights.  Thing is, you definitely shouldn’t believe this meme.  Every part of it is a lie.

Let’s start with the alleged statement made by Presidential candidate Clinton.  I deployed my considerable resources in a comprehensive fact-gathering mission to determine the veracity of this quote…I’m just kidding; I Googled it.  And do you know what I found?  If you’re the person who put together this meme, I’m going to guess the answer is no.

I found that the Clinton quote is completely fabricated, according to the urban legend debunking website Snopes.com, who rated this claim false:

…the link included with the above-displayed meme didn’t lead to a page containing Clinton’s purported quote. Additionally, a search of the Des Moines Register‘s archives yielded no results for the phrase in question. In fact, this utterance was absent from all major news publications.

We looked into a handful of memes posted by the “Shocking Hillary Clinton Quotes …” Tumblr page and found that the provided source links never matched up with the purported quotes.

And let’s not just take Snopes’s word for it.  The fact-checking website Politifact.com called this fabricated quote “Pants on Fire”, saying:

Clinton campaigned heavily in Iowa throughout the summer and fall of 2015, and Register reporters and the paper’s editorial board interviewed her several times. But she was not in Iowa on Aug. 8, when she allegedly made the statement. Clinton’s first visit to Iowa in the month of August occurred on Aug. 14, followed by public events on Aug. 15 and Aug. 26.

A review of the Register’s archives show Clinton was neither interviewed nor quoted directly on Aug. 8 or in the days immediately following.

It is well known that Hillary Clinton does support stronger gun control laws, including broader background checks, especially at gun shows.  She also proposes restricting gun sales to domestic abusers and the mentally ill.  At no point, however, has she publicly called for banning all handguns or dismantling the NRA.

Now let’s talk about George Washington, the man who, according to myth, could not tell a lie.  Too bad the author of this meme didn’t follow his example.

Politifact weighs in on this quote as well.  Spoiler alert: it’s made up.  According to Politifact, Edward Lengel, editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia, says “there is no evidence that Washington ever wrote or said these words, or any like them.”  Lengel then says that while it’s impossible to prove a negative, he’s quite certain that the quote did not originate from George Washington.

What was Washington’s stance on gun ownership, while we’re on the topic?  In George Washington’s own words (his real words, taken from his first State of the Union address in 1790):

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies. (emphasis mine)

Washington experts agree that the first President was referring to a trained militia for defending the new nation, and for national self-sufficiency in creating military supplies.  Lengel explains:

The idea of resistance to tyranny being dependent on a nation of gun-wielding individuals acting at their own behest or even on local initiative would have been anathema to Washington.  Indeed, during the (Revolutionary) war he very frequently lamented the crimes carried out by armed civilians or undisciplined militia against their unarmed neighbors. The solution to these crimes, as he understood it, was to increase the power of the government and the army to prevent and punish them — not to put more guns in the hands of civilians.

If you are in favor of looser gun control laws, it seems that George Washington might not be your primary source for inspirational quotes.

I’m not telling you this to sway your vote, by the way.  To paraphrase a meme from long ago, I don’t care if you don’t like Hillary Clinton – or any political candidate – but I do care if the reason why is a lie.  In fact, I mind it very much if any of your political opinions are based on lies.  Do some research, and make sure you know exactly whom and what you are voting for – as much as it is possible to know – when you step into the booth.  You owe your fellow Americans that much.

 

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Simply Stupid

guns

Once again the fertile soil of the gun control debate has yielded a meme of absolute asininity.  My favorite part of this meme is at the end, when the author brazenly asserts that if you don’t understand (and presumably agree with) his point, as expressed in this half-assed meme, then you are an intellectual lightweight.  Well, anonymous author, I beg to disagree.  The gun control debate is not so simple, and anybody who thinks it can be expressed in such simple terms does not really understand it himself.  Of course, I have a sneaking suspicion that many pro-gunners don’t want to understand the intricacies and implications of gun control.  They have a single-minded dedication to a goal (unfettered access to unnecessary firearms) and anything that demonstrates the idiocy of that goal is anathema.

As I’ve said before, I’m not necessarily in favor of banning all guns, but they should be heavily regulated.  Obtaining a firearm ought to be a real chore, similar to getting your driver’s license.  You ought to have to check in regularly to make sure you haven’t lost any of the completely necessary weapons you own.  Even then, I won’t be convinced that putting more guns into the hands of untrained citizens makes for a safer society.  If you want to convince me of that, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this meme.  Gun advocates, you do yourselves no favors by creating and sharing memes like this one.

Let’s start at the top, shall we?  The bad guys look absolutely ticked that the good guys have guns, which I find comically ludicrous.  Any bad guy who despairs that his life of crime will be derailed by the presence of good guys with guns has only to examine the data.  How many mass shootings – indeed, how many shootings of any kind – have been stopped by an armed citizen?  Spoiler alert: it’s not that many.

The fact is that good guys with guns very rarely stop bad guys with guns.  In fact, according to FBI data, for every “justifiable homicide” (which could arguably be called a good-guys-with-guns scenario) in 2012, there were thirty-four criminal gun homicides, seventy-eight gun suicides, and two accidental gun deaths.  Let me restate that, folks, so the message is not lost: statistically, you are twice as likely to accidentally shoot yourself to death as you are to use your gun to kill a criminal.  Less than one percent of gun-related deaths are caused by a good guy with a gun stopping the commission of a crime.  Sorry, gun advocates, but that argument simply doesn’t hit its target.

Furthermore, if good guys with guns deterred bad guys with guns, then certainly the amount of gun violence would have risen in recent years.  After all, the General Social Survey report entitled Trends in Gun Ownership in the United States, 1972-2014 (PDF) shows that the number of Americans who own guns, or who live in a household with somebody who owns guns, has declined over the past 25 years.  Fewer gun owners = more crime, right?  Well, no.  Gun homicide rates have actually decreased by 49 percent since a peak in 1993, according to the Pew Research Center.

Let’s pull this all together.  The number of people who own guns has been decreasing over the last few decades, as has the rate of gun violence.  I’m not trying to say that A causes B; after all, I understand that correlation is not the same as causation.  But…and this is important, so pay attention, gun advocates…these data do not show that gun violence decreases when there are more gun owners, nor that it increases when there are fewer.  The implication made by the top part of this meme simply is not true.  No matter how often gun advocates parrot the words of Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, there is no evidence to suggest that good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.

If you’re a gun advocate and you’re not already frothing mad at me, frantically scrolling down to find the Comment link, perhaps I can push you over the edge with my dissection of the second part of this meme.

If good guys don’t have guns (or if they have to work harder to get them, and are held accountable for what happens to them) then bad guys will have fewer guns.  Allow me to explain how.

A study (PDF) published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice, in 2001, interviewed criminals who were serving time for gun-related crimes.  When asked where they obtained the firearm they carried while committing the crime that landed them in prison, about 40% divulged that they obtained their guns from their social network; i.e. from friends and family.  Another 40% claimed to have obtained a weapon from street or illegal sources.  The “illegal sources” category was not further subdivided, but one presumes that this percentage includes stolen guns.  Not surprisingly, very few criminals obtained their guns through usual legal channels: retail stores, pawn shops, etc.

Aha, the gun advocate might now be saying, that proves that criminals don’t get their guns from legal sources!  Harsh restrictions on law-abiding citizens will do nothing to stop criminals from obtaining weapons.  Well, not so fast.  ATF agent Jay Wachtel, speaking to PBS Frontline, says that stolen guns account for only 10 to 15% of the guns used in crimes.  In other words, 85 to 90% of the guns used in crimes were given to the criminal willingly, often by people who had acquired the guns through legal means.  In some cases a person agrees to purchase a gun for another person who would otherwise be unable to buy one.  In other cases a corrupt gun dealer makes an under-the-table sale to a buyer who wishes to remain anonymous.  In all of those cases, tougher restrictions on the legal sale and trading of guns – and harsher punishments for people who break the rules – would reduce the number of guns that eventually find their way into the hands of criminals.

So, there isn’t any conceivable way in which this meme is correct.  There’s no good evidence to suggest that a more heavily-armed American public will deter gun crime, nor can it be argued that disarming honest people will result in more criminals committing crimes with guns.  And for heaven’s sake, you’re not stupid if you disagree with the point this meme is trying to make.

The Devil’s In The Details

Jeanne Assam

EDIT: I drew most of the information for this post from the Robert Sanchez article linked below.  Recently Ms Jeanne Assam herself has commented to say that the article contained some inaccuracies.  She wishes to set the record straight.  In the interest of honesty, I’ll leave my original text; however, I will also include Assam’s own words whenever her narrative contradicts the Sanchez article.

If you don’t already know who Jeanne Assam is or what she did, I recommend an article called “Jeanne Assam is Still Waiting“, written by Robert Sanchez for the Denver-based online magazine 5280.com.

There are certain parts of this meme that are true.  On December 9, 2007, a 24-year-old man named Matthew Murray attacked two churches in Colorado.  The first attack happened at 12:30 a.m. at the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Church in Arvada.  There, Murray killed two people and wounded two others before fleeing on foot.  Later that day, Murray turned up at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, 70 miles from YWAM, where he killed two additional victims and injured three more.  Jeanne Assam, who was present and packing at the New Life Church, confronted Murray in one of the church’s corridors and shot him multiple times.  According to Sanchez, the gunman, wounded and defeated, turned his gun on himself.  Jeanne Assam says:

We shot at each other and after hitting him 10 times, the last 3 rounds from only about 5 feet away and having no choice, I killed him. He gave me no choice. I don’t care what folklore you’ve read on the internet, you weren’t there. I was. You didn’t get his blood spatter on your clothes. I did. And I was no security guard, I was a trained police officer. He did not kill himself. I killed him.

Assam’s brave actions were widely noted by the media, including liberal- and conservative-leaning outlets, so the meme’s claim to the contrary is simply a lie.  Still, her case seems to have new relevance in the wake of the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.  If one armed church-goer could make such a difference in Colorado, could the same have happened at the Emanual AME Church where Dylann Roof murdered nine worshipers in June of this year?

Of course we don’t know the answer to that question, and we cannot infer an answer from Jeanne Assam’s special case.  You see, there is another lie contained in this meme – a lie of omission – and it greatly affects how we perceive the entire gun control debate.

Jeanne Assam was not an average citizen exercising her Second Amendment rights.  Prior to attending the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, she had gone to police academy and served as a police officer in Minneapolis.  As a consequence of her training, she knew how to safely use a firearm.  Although, according to Sanchez, she was no longer working as a cop at the time of the attack, Assam was still licensed to carry a firearm, and she had been specially appointed by the New Life Church as an armed security guard.

In Jeanne Assam’s words:

I am and was a police officer. My license was still active at the time of the shooting. I was merely a volunteer on that church security team, armed of course, because I am a police officer and the church asked me to be (although they need not have since I am always armed).

According to Sanchez, Assam and her fellow guards were already on high alert the day of the shooting because they had heard about the attack at YWAM earlier that morning.  Assam says:

The next morning, same day, [Matthew Murray] emailed a warning email to New Life Church in Colorado Springs that he was coming there to kill next. I was the only person who was never told of this email (until a retired homicide detective told me about it in late 2011. I then verified this information with the Arvada PD who confirmed it was true).

In other words, Assam was not just a gun carrier; she was the ideal combination of professional experience, preparation, and bravery.  Regardless of whether she knew about the impending attack or not, her professional training made her ready to respond.

That’s not to diminish the heroism of Assam’s actions, by the way, but it makes an important point that this meme conveniently ignores.  Assam simply does not fit most gun advocates’ fantasy of an armed Average Joe (or Jeanne) stepping up to halt a madman in his tracks.  Assam’s gun did not make her a hero; her heroism and experience made her gun an effective tool.  And there are other facts of the case that are inconvenient for gun advocates’ arguments.

When Matthew Murray died, he was carrying a modified Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle, a Springfield Armory 9mm semi-automatic pistol, and a Beretta .40 cal semi-automatic pistol.  An AK-47 assault rifle was found in his car, which might lead one to speculate that he was planning more violence later.  All of these weapons were legally obtained, which ought to give one pause.  Even while Murray posted many of his violent fantasies online – behind an identity-concealing screen name, of course – the law cleared him to amass his arsenal.

If a gun dealer of average common sense knew what Murray was planning, he never would have sold him a gun, let alone an assault rifle (one hopes).  But there are no laws in place that would have revealed Murray’s plan before he committed it; in fact, only a severe violation of privacy would have exposed his intentions – and gun advocates are typically big fans of privacy.  So gun advocates who say that everybody should be allowed to own military-grade assault weapons, free from restriction or oversight, are left with a quandary.  Either people like Murray continue to get big guns and commit mass murders as a necessary side effect of gun advocates’ opposition to tighter regulations, or everybody submits to unconscionably intrusive psych evaluations and surrenders all of their online passwords before they get their hands on an assault rifle.

Or…or…we could just admit that private citizens don’t really need military-grade assault weapons, and that would solve the problem as well.

Now I’m not saying that nobody should have guns at all (in fact, no elected officials, liberal or otherwise, have launched serious efforts to disarm America, which means that this meme’s Official Lie Count stands at three).  If Jeanne Assam had not been packing heat on that fateful afternoon, who knows how many extra people would have died?  But if Jeanne Assam’s story proves anything, it’s that guns are most effective in the hands of highly-trained, morally-upright* individuals who have been appointed to the task of public safety.  I doubt that many of the people who share this meme have one-tenth the training that Assam has in the safe use of firearms, nor that, placed in a similar situation, they would become the saviors they fantasize about being.


*I included the words “morally-upright” to exclude cops who have used their weapons in an act of police brutality.

Analogy Failure

Gay Marriage and Guns

If you took the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, in high school, you may remember the analogy questions in the verbal section. An analogy question offers a pair of terms that share some logical relationship, then asks you to identify another pair of terms that share the same relationship. Here’s an example from the Kaplan Test Prep website:

MEDICINE:ILLNESS::

(A) law:anarchy
(B) hunger:thirst
(C) etiquette:discipline
(D) love:treason
(E) stimulant:sensitivity

Medicine is used to prevent illness, in the same way that law is meant to prevent anarchy; hence, answer (A) is the best choice. None of the other choices have the same function/purpose relationship. In any analogy there must be a solid logical connection on both sides. If the logic that binds the analogy is faulty, then the analogy doesn’t work. And if the analogy doesn’t work, you probably shouldn’t use it in a Facebook conversation and then turn it into a meme.

That’s the problem with this meme; the logical connection between Red’s statement and Blue’s statement is weak. Red repeats the gun control mantra: they are not in favor of banning all guns – just the military-grade assault weapons that can kill the most people in the shortest time. Blue responds by arguing that Republicans (which Blue claims not to be) don’t want to ban all marriages, just the ones that ick them out the most. I’m sure Blue is patting himself on the back for his clever argument, but before he feels too proud of himself, Blue should consider that there is a big difference between wanting to prevent the average citizen from purchasing his eighteenth machine gun, and wanting to prevent Adam and Steve from cementing a commitment forged in love.

Now I shouldn’t have to explain the difference, but just in case Blue (or somebody with a similar mindset) wanders across this blog some day – I’ll indulge you. Gay marriage doesn’t kill people. It doesn’t allow one person to kill dozens of people in a matter of seconds. Need proof? Since 2008, 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized gay marriage, either by court decision, state legislature, or popular vote. Since 2008, the homicide rate in the United States has declined from 5.4 per 100,000 people to only 4.7. See? Legal gay marriage doesn’t cause murders – it prevents them! (I know: there’s no causal connection between legal gay marriages and decreasing murder rates. It was a joke.)

So when Republicans cast their votes against gay marriage, they’re not really championing a cause that protects the health and safety of United States citizens; they’re just trying to solidify their own biases into law. That’s why the arguments of a gun control proponent do not sound like the arguments of an anti-gay-marriage Republican. Once you scratch the surface, there are vastly different motivations and likely consequences.

It tickles me, though, that Blue – an avowed non-Republican – is improperly using Republican arguments as a weapon to discredit the argument of a gun control proponent. Are Republicans the new Hitler in Internet-based “debates”? There’s an intriguing thought.

KKKrazy

KKKrazy

Really? Hmm, that’s an interesting historical tidbit. I cannot tell whether this meme is meant to be tongue-in-cheek or not, so I’ll assume that it isn’t.

I will agree that some gun control proponents have had racist intentions; in fact, the Founding Fathers, on whom conservative gun rights advocates often base their arguments, devised a set of gun control laws so restrictive that any candidate espousing them today would be committing political suicide. Under their laws, not only were blacks (free or enslaved) forbidden from owning guns, but so were any white people that would not pledge their fealty to the cause of the Revolution, or so says Adam Winkler, writing for The Atlantic. In fact, says Winkler, anybody who was eligible to own a gun was also required to do so…and we know how modern conservatives feel about being required by the government to purchase something. Bear in mind that this was long before the first Ku Klux Klan was formed in 1865. Even if the meme is correct in spirit about some gun control laws, it’s a long way from being factually accurate.

The racist intentions of some historical gun control laws do not invalidate the purpose of modern gun control laws, which is to create a safer society in which people are not needlessly injured or killed by gun violence. Now if you wish to argue about whether modern gun control laws would truly be effective at their stated purpose, you’re free to do so using statistically valid data and logic. You should avoid using racially-charged semi-facts to distract peoples’ attention from the real issue.

Hitler Hype

Hitler and Gun Control

Well, this is a perfectly damning indictment of gun control laws, except for two minor problems:

  1. Hitler almost certainly didn’t say this, and
  2. Hitler relaxed gun control laws; he did not strengthen them.

The Weimar Republic, which preceded Hitler’s regime, enacted rigid gun control laws in the wake of World War I. Under the Weimar laws, no private German citizen was allowed to own a firearm. According to Alex Seitz-Wald writing in Slate, the law was relaxed a bit in 1928 so that private citizens could own firearms, but only after jumping through numerous regulatory hoops. In 1938, gun ownership was completely deregulated – especially for members of the Nazi party – by one Adolf Hitler.

So Hitler did exactly the opposite of what this meme implies. The only people who were not allowed to own firearms under Hitler’s Nazi party were – you guessed it – Jews and other persecuted minorities.

Now the gun rights advocates may argue that if Jews had been given access to firearms, they could have prevented the Holocaust. That’s doubtful. Entire nations fell before the Nazis’ war machine; it’s very unlikely that poor Jews living in ghettos could have organized an effective resistance. Had the Jews been armed, they could have killed a few Nazi oppressors, but at what price? Conflicts between Nazis and armed Jews were extremely one-sided. During the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, only about 20 German soldiers were killed; meanwhile, roughly 13,000 Jewish resistance fighters were slaughtered, a ratio of about 650 resistance fighters for every 1 German soldier. Some 57,000 other Jewish and Polish fighters were promptly deported to concentration camps.

So this meme is factually, historically, intellectually, and in all other ways incorrect. Why in the world would somebody create this meme as an argument against gun control laws?

Invoking Hitler has become the “nuclear option” of online debating. If you don’t have a convincing argument to support your position, you can always compare your opponent’s stance to that of Adolf Hitler. It doesn’t even matter if Hitler actually did or said anything similar to what your opponent is proposing; you can just make stuff up, apparently.

You think a woman should have the right to make her own reproductive decisions? Well, guess who else was in favor of abortions…Adolf Hitler!

You think Black Friday sales events have become too extreme and ought to be regulated to protect the health and safety of shoppers? Well you know who else wanted to regulate the free market? Adolf Hitler!

Oh, you prefer Coke to Pepsi? You know who else liked Coke better? Adolf Hitler!

The problem with mentioning Hitler, besides the fact that it completely ends any possibility for rational debate, is that Hitler’s opinions on things do not necessarily make those things good or evil. Complex social issues have to be evaluated on their own terms, not based on whether Adolf Hitler would have espoused them or not. No matter where you stand on the gun control debate, try to refrain from bringing long-dead dictators into the conversation. But if you must recall the words of Hitler, please do your homework first.

Imperfect Analogy

Guns and Fire Extinguishers

Actually, we don’t need assault weapons because we have these:

sandy-hook-victims-list

And hundreds more like them. Once again gun lovers have completely failed to understand the point of the gun control debate, which is not to take away all guns, but to severely restrict access to the guns that can kill the most people in the shortest amount of time. Plus, the analogy stinks: the fire extinguishers should be replaced by firetrucks. You don’t need firetrucks because a fire extinguisher will be enough protection for the average citizen under ordinary circumstances. If you need more protection than a fire extinguisher can provide, then you need to call in the professionals.